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Uzbekistan23 May 2007

Deutsche Welle freelancer faces up to 10 years in prison

Reporters Without Borders today condemned the government’s intention to try journalist Yuri Chernogayev, a Tashkent-based freelancer for the German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle. The prosecutor’s office told him on 18 May that he will soon be formally charged with a range of offences including threatening national security. He faces up to 10 years in prison.

“This is a travesty of justice designed to silence those working for foreign news media,” the press freedom organisation said. “Less than two weeks after a meeting between European Union and Uzbek officials at which President Islam Karimov was asked to give evidence of his commitment to improve human rights, this development is a slap in the face for all press freedom activists.”

An investigation was originally opened against Chernogayev in March for suspected “tax evasion.” Then he was suspected of helping Deutsche Welle correspondent, Natalya Bushuyeva, to flee the country. Now other charges are to be added - “defaming the president” (article 158 of the criminal code), “defaming the Republic of Uzbekistan (article 159) and “producing and disseminating material constituting a threat to national security and public order” (article 244-1). He must also pay an 800-dollar fine.

“We urge the judicial authorities to be lenient and reasonable,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Chernogayev already has to pay a stiff fine. A prison sentence would be outrageous. The main accusation against him is having documents relating to an ‘Islam and Tolerance’ conference that were posted on the Deutsche Welle website.”

According to the governmental Media Surveillance Centre, it was this document that posed a threat to national security. The centre’s job is to ensure that radio and TV stations make proper use of the frequencies assigned to them. It is not supposed to take a position on media content.

“Unfortunately, this is not the first time that the Media Surveillance Centre has overstepped its authority,” Reporters Without Borders added. “It issued a similar opinion on the content of journalist and human rights activist Umida Niyazova’s laptop computer, which included a report on the crackdown on the Andijan uprising.”

The EU voted to adopt sanctions against Uzbekistan after the government’s crackdown on the uprising in the eastern city of Andijan on 13 May 2005 left a death toll estimated at about 800 by human rights groups (and 187 by the government). Since then, the sanctions have been reexamined every six months. They were eased slightly for the second time on 14 May as part of a dialogue on human rights.

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